By Helping Others You Can Help Yourself
As I sat there on January 1st, 2022, looking at yet another year with COVID, it was easy to feel sorry for oneself. The loss of seeing family, friends, and staff have all made for a challenging year. That is without even considering things like not being able to go on holidays, attend sporting events, throw and/or attend parties, or have large celebrations.
Whenever I start feeling sorry for myself, I think about other people around the world and realize just how fortunate I am to live where I live and have a job that I love. I think about the many other people in the world who would do almost anything to live here in Canada.
Rhonda and I have always tried to be involved in charitable efforts. A few years ago, some friends approached us and asked whether we wanted to become part of a group of individuals sponsoring a refugee family to come to Canada. The support would include financial and practical help, including finding accommodation, doctors, and dentists, setting up schooling, and ESL training.
We already knew a family who were refugees from Afghanistan, who had come to Canada and were very successful. The family, comprised of a husband, Hassan, his wife, Hakima, and their two children, Ehsan and Hadis, came to Canada about three years ago and could be considered a triumph for refugee resettlement. The parents had both obtained full-time jobs; the children were doing well in school, and, this past year, they had purchased their first home.
Hassan’s remaining family members, a total of 10 people (five adults and five children), were still in Tajikistan as refugees and wanted to come to Canada. Seeing the great benefit that sponsorship had provided for Hassan and Hakima, we were happy to become involved in sponsoring the rest of Hassan’s family. We offered our financial support and waited through the long process of getting the family to Canada, which took over two years.
On December 21st, 2021, the family arrived in Toronto on a charter flight for refugees. It was a delight to wait in the parking lot near the Toronto airport and watch different groups of refugees meet their family members and/or their sponsors. In our case, we were a group of both family members and sponsors. Below are a couple of pictures of that late night/early morning meeting.
While we were waiting for this new group to be approved to come to Canada, Hakima approached us about whether we would be willing to try to help bring her family to Canada (six adults and six children). Her family was still in Afghanistan and were not yet refugees. They were also part of the Hazara; an ethnic group discriminated against in their homeland. We agreed and put together another group of people willing to sponsor them.
When Hakima initially approached us, the Taliban had not yet taken over the country. Things changed quickly and dramatically for the worse when the Taliban took over Afghanistan. In the past, Hazaras were targeted, persecuted, and in some cases, executed by the Taliban. The Afghan economy had ground to a halt; no businesses were operating, food was difficult to obtain. Innocent civilians, including children, were killed in bombings, and the family did not feel safe.
The first big hurdle was getting the family out of Afghanistan. To make refugee status, the family had to be in another country. The news footage of people swarming the airport to leave Afghanistan, and the failed attempts by the Canadian government to get refugees who had supported the Canadian military out, emphasized how challenging this process could be.
Finding a third country (not Afghanistan, not Canada) that would allow the family to come was an arduous task. Many countries were not accepting people from Afghanistan, and most embassies in Afghanistan were closed. The family made contact through a “middle man,” who promised them passports, visas for Iran (the only country they could get to), and transportation out of the country for a large sum of money. The family asked for our opinion. Rhonda and I had no experience with this sort of thing and were concerned about the legalities of such a deal. Hakima told us that this was a common way of procuring travel documents, and there appeared to be no other choice, so the family went ahead.
The family obtained passports and visas, and arranged to travel. This family of 12 had to abandon everything they had and owned in Afghanistan, hoping to get to Canada eventually. They just left their home and took a 17-hour bus journey to a city on the Afghan side of the border with Iran. They stayed there for three days, in a crowded motel, until they could cross the border into Iran.
Once in Iran, more difficulties faced them. Their visa was for only 30 days, with the possibility of being deported back to Afghanistan after that time. They all stayed with Hakima’s sister and family in a two-bedroom apartment. They found no way of making a refugee claim in Iran (neither the Iran government nor the UN could help). There appeared to be no options with other countries, such as Tajikistan, Turkey, Pakistan, or Syria.
We have been in contact with our Federal Government through our local representative and his aides, but there is no way to begin the process of being sponsored to come to Canada without a refugee claim. At this point, the family is in Iran with no way out.
They are now in the process of again trying to buy temporary resident permits for the 12 of them, with support from our group in Canada. These permits will give them a year to stay in Iran without fear of deportation. Meanwhile, Hakima has told us that the men in the family do not go outside because the police are more likely to stop men and check their residence status. They have been able to rent a very basic house.
We still have the group of people here who are prepared to take on 100% of the financial burden of bringing this family to London. We have shared this with our government representatives, and we had hoped that our government might do everything in its power to get the family to Canada. Canada has committed to bringing 40,000 Afghan refugees here and, to date, has brought less than 7,000. Sadly, at this point, it is not clear how or when we might be able to get the family here.
I hope to keep you informed about the stories of both of these families – the ones who finally arrived in December and the family currently stuck in Iran.